Well-composed FanPosts like this are a slam dunk for promotion to the front page. - Dirk
For a team that did more in free agency this year than any other team, one would think the Nashville Predators were a far superior team then last year. In reality, as the roster currently stands, the Nashville Predators aren't much different than last year. They have added more grit, and will probably be in a few more fights this year, but nobody expects this team to advance past the first round of the playoffs. They may not even make the playoffs. Of course, Nashville has a history of exceeding expectations so who knows where they end up. Regardless of what happens this year, next year is the year hardcore Predator fans should be looking to. Consider this a transition year. Here is why.
1) This is the last year of the Craig Leipold era. The last hold over from that era is the overpriced contract for David Legwand. Don't get me wrong, I like Leggy. And I'd like to see us resign him to keep the tradition alive. I still think if he finishes his career in a Predators uniform, his number will be retired. He often gets a bad wrap for not living up to his draft expectations, but we often forget that he was asked to be a defensive forward early on and abandon is scoring mentality. Yes, he should have scored more goals over his career, but he has been a dependable forward that Barry Trotz can put out on the ice in any situation. This year is also the first year Leggy will get paid his actually worth. If he is willing to sign a 2 or 3 year extension in the $3.00 -$3.75 million range, he is worth the reinvestment. However, if he wants $4.0 or more million a year, I say we wish him the best and send him on his way.
2) We will know by the end of this year whether Craig Smith, Colin Wilson, and Ryan Ellis are part of the future or not. If one or all fail to live up to the hype or are frequently injured or benched, they they will be traded or on the trading block in the next year. I still think all three have a place in the NHL. I am just not sure whether it is with the Nashville Predators. One of the reasons young players have had the opportunity to get ice time in previous years is the lack of depth and scoring that has plagued Nashville. If you look at the current roster and the young talent recently drafted, depth is no longer an issue. Players are going to have to earn their ice time both in Nashville AND Milwaukee. All three players have shown they have the skill, yet they haven't shown the ability to sustain it for an entire season and play Barry Trotz hockey on both ends of the ice. This is their year to shine. If they can't, then their best option is to latch on to another team and see if a change in systems works for them.
3) We will get an early glimpse of Seth Jones and Filip Forsburg this year. But remember, they are 18 and 19 years old respectively. They will make mistakes. Many mistakes. And we will question their skills, and all the hype will sour. But we will also see moments of brilliance and remind ourselves that the upcoming years could be special to watch as they develop into stars. This, of course, is dependent on them making the opening day roster. Regardless of the playing time they get in Nashville this year, next year is when we can expect to see their potential start to shine. It just so happens next year is when much of our young talent will be ready to join them. More on that below.
4) We could go from one of the oldest teams this year, to one of the youngest teams next year. If the free agents we brought in this year don't improve the team (I am mixed on their potential), or we are clearly out of the playoffs, expect David Poile to look at unloading players for draft picks/prospects. Yes, most of our tradable players have NTC's or NMC's, but those have a way of being waived. So don't be surprised if one or more of Legwand, Cullen, Nystrom, Fisher, or Gaustad end up traded before next year. David Poile isn't the type of General Manager to dump a player to any team. He respects his veterans and would go out of his way to find them a suitable team, and possible a team battling for the Stanley Cup. And they will be replaced with Austin Watson, Zack Budish, and Brendan Leipsic as well as Beck, Bourque, and Forsberg assuming more prominent roles. The one true fact about any professional sport is every year brings a new crop of talent ready to push the older veterans out of the way. And Nashville has plenty of youth ready to assume that challenge.
5) Nashville is close, very close to having one of the best defenses in the league. Three of our top six are set for at least the next several years in Weber, Josi, and Jones. Kevin Klein likely isn't going anywhere as his $2.9 million salary is very well priced for a player of his caliber. So who fills in the next two spots? Ryan Ellis will get his shot this year and most likely Mattias Ekholm. Victor Bartley is just a filler for this year at best. My guess? Ellis gets traded, Ekholm lives up to his potential, and the 6th goes to either Charles Roussel or my dark horse, 2013 3rd round draft pick Jonathan-Ismael Diaby. Imagine the below line up on defense next year:
Weber(6'4/232) / Josi (6'2/198)
Jones (6'4/205 and growing) / Ekholm(6'4/204)
Diaby (6'5/232 and growing) / Klein (6'1/200)
That is a lot of beef for a defense, especially if Ekholm learns how to use his size to his advantage. 4 Players 6'4 or taller would be tough to play against. Granted Diaby is a LONG shot, but his game is perfect for the 3rd line.
6) We know Pekka Rinne is set as the number one goalie for the foreseeable future. Our backup this year is up in the air, but not next year. Expect Magnus Hellberg to move into the number two spot next year giving Nashville almost 13 feet of goalies between Rinne and Hellberg. In case one of those two goes down, Marek Mazenak (6'4) is also in the wings. Regardless of the who, the what is known. As the game of hockey has changed over the years, the one thing that has emerged between the pipes is the value of a big goalie. Nashville seems to have the market cornered in that area.
7) The youth movement is on its way. With the defense and goalie positions set for the next several years, the open question is who will provide the offense? In addition to Watson, Bourque, Beck, and Forsberg, expect to hear the names Budish, Leipsic, Aberg, Balisy, Stepan, and Vesey around Nashville. These players represent the future of the Nashville Predators organization.
Now for the fun part and why I love the NHL. If I were to write a similar article next year at around this same time, I could very well be talking about how a group of players came together in Nashville and battled their way all the way to the Stanley Cup. Injuries, trades, promotions, and demotions change every team as the year progresses. It isn't how a team looks at the start of the year that matters. David Poile has a long history of saying the team will be better at the end of the year than they are at the start. And this year will be no different. Of course, this is true for every team. However, something feels different about this year. Maybe it is the infusion of youth or the free agents signed to boost scoring and grit, but for the first time in a long time, Nashville actually sounds better at the start of the year. And if the pieces fall into place, this just might be they year Nashville makes it past the second round. If not, next year looks even better.